Tumultuous Trip

We’re back from a week and a half vacation to the east coast. It was… quite a ride, enough that I kinda feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

I don’t often talk about it here because it feels like not-so-humble bragging, but we have a vacation house in Massachusetts. It’s in a pretty great location, and we bought it to keep it in the (extended) family. We got a pretty good deal on it, but we learned a couple of years ago that part of the reason for that is that it needed some deferred maintenance. We hired a really excellent contractor, but the project kept getting bigger for various reasons, and ultimately it turned into a major remodel, which is just now finishing up.

Our trip back in May was partly to try to finish preparing the house for this trip. We found that there was more to buy than we’d expected, and so we’d planned to spend the first couple of days on this trip buying and assembling furniture, and unpacking the house.

The plan was to fly out on a 6 am flight on Tuesday, June 27. We were going with friends of ours and their kids, to spend about 2 weeks at the house.

Everything went sideways when Debbi and her friend found out around 11:30 pm that our flight had been cancelled due to extreme weather on the east coast. Worse, we weren’t able to rebook until Thursday. So we spent a couple of days kicking around home before we were able to leave. And even then our flight was over 2 hours delayed. We landed in Boston a bit before 11 pm. On the bright side, the rental car kicks are pretty quiet at that hour, so we were able to get our cars smoothly and get down to the house by 12:30 am. We spent an hour and a half looking around (and figuring out how to turn the lights off) before going to bed.

Unfortunately this meant we’d lost over 2 days of prep time, so we had to shuffle around and compress the work we’d planned to do. We went to IKEA and Target on Sunday, assembled furniture over the next few days as time permitted. Especially on July 3, which is when the area where our house is holds its Independence Day celebrations, presumably because people want to drink and then sleep in on the Fourth. (Because when people are shooting off fireworks, you definitely want those people to have been drinking.)

Among this I also mixed in a number of trips to visit my Dad. His story isn’t mine to tell – I don’t think he’s ever been very comfortable with me writing about him online – but he’s needed assistance from me and my sister Katy recently. So I made several trips up to visit. But I also got to see my sister and nephew, who came down one day to see our house. Seeing them all was nice, but it was a hectic time.

We also spent a lot of time with Debbi’s family, who all came over at various times to visit. I missed seeing a couple of them because I was off taking care of business. Maybe next time.

The weather was a little iffy, always warm but not too warm, but with humidity that came and went, and showers from time to time. We did get a few nice days to spend at the beach, though.

Our friends left us on the second Friday to spend the weekend in Boston, which they wanted to play tourist in. So Debbi and I had a quieter weekend. But it turned out my friend Karen and her beau were also visiting Boston this weekend, so they came down on Saturday to hang out. We hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic, and it was great to see them.

Speaking of the pandemic, it’s clear that almost everyone has put it behind them at this point. Few people were masking anywhere we went, including in airports, and no one was physically distancing that I could tell. We wore masks a bit for the first few days and then ditched them. I’ll likely write something else about this in the near future. I am looking forward to getting another booster, though, and wish they’d make them available to everyone twice a year.

The trip ended, unfortunately, with another flight delay. We didn’t get back to San Francisco until nearly 11 pm on Monday night, and were totally exhausted by the time we got home and went to bed. The cats were really, really happy to see us, of course, and our friends who care for Domino when we’re away were happy to keep him a couple of extra days so the cats could have some dedicated time with us. But of course he was really happy to see us, too.

Anyway, it was a good, productive trip, but not very restful. Hopefully we can do something lower-key later this year. Once we recover from all this air travel.

Falling to Boston Again

Debbi and I are back from a week in Boston – well, Massachusetts – visiting our families. I was there in July, but we decided that Debbi would come too, partly because she hadn’t seen her family in over 3 years.

Preparing for this trip was the most stressful part of it. While air fares have come down a bunch since the summer (I think we spent slightly more for both of us than I spent on just me in July), we also had to get to the airport (we decided to go with long-term parking at SFO, since 8 days is about the break-even point compared to taking a cab, Lyft, or Wingz), and also find a cat sitter.

This last part was the real point of angst: Our long-term sitter has basically retired to take care of her mother, and the woman who recommended her to use has been using Rover, which she says is okay but she’s not in love with it. We got a recommendation from one friend, and I picked up a recommendation from work. We also started learning that our regular sitter was a really great deal in the dollar department. The recommendation from work was promising, but not available during part of our trip, so she referred us to someone she knows, and we ended up going with her. Which worked out great! Thank goodness.

(Domino the dog, by the way, was already taken care of because our friends who fostered him were happy to take him for a week, so he could chase their husky around.)

We took a 10:45 am flight out, which meant we didn’t have to wake up at oh-god-thirty to drive up. Everything went smoothly, and we landed in Boston on time. The one hiccup is that it took 30 minutes for our bag to come out, but we got to my Dad’s house in time to grab a quick dinner at a taco place which is open late.

I had a couple more things to help my Dad with on this trip, and those all went smoothly. He was nice enough to let us use his car so we didn’t have to rent one (which was especially nice since rentals were starting at $100/day – guess that industry hasn’t entirely recovered from COVID yet).

We got to see the latest progress on the beach house remodel – a lot of work done in 3 months, and stuff more in the wheelhouse of our general contractor than the earlier structural work, so he was eager to show it off and know that we were happy with how things are going. And holy cow it’s all going to be awesome when it’s finished – hopefully early next spring, as winter is not far off up there. Also, he and Debbi got to meet, which I think was a big deal for both of them, as Debbi is the main person who talks with him.

We ate a bunch of good food on this trip, my favorites being return trips to Galley and Hops & Scotch, both excellent small-plates restaurants. One big difference is that we mostly ate inside, because it was too cold (and sometimes too wet) to eat outside. I was a little concerned about this, but not as much as when I was there in July. And from what I’ve read lately, COVID cases are quite low right now, and if you’re not prepared to eat inside now, it’s unlikely things are going to change for the better in the next 2 (or more) years. Granted, there are plenty of people who are likely prepared to not eat indoors (or even go out among other people much) for the foreseeable future (quite possibly the rest of their lives), but we decided that we’re not those people.

One night we went down to the North End to meet our oldest niece for dinner. Since we last saw her she’s graduate college and started working for Oracle, and is apparently kicking ass in her job. She seems very happy with life right now, which is great to see.

Over the weekend we made a couple of trips to visit the rest of Debbi’s family, spending one night down there. These trips are generally a hang-out-with-everyone experience for me, so there’s not a lot to report, except that I went walking around their neighborhood for about 40 minutes to look at Halloween decorations. Maybe not the smartest thing on a semi-rural road at night while wearing a black jacket, as sister-in-law mentioned, but oh well!

We made time to watch the final episode of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure on Doctor Who amidst all this. (It was okay.)

We had good weather on the trip – a little nippy a few nights with lows around 42°F, but a couple of days of highs near 70. And autumn in Massachusetts is quite pretty, with the fall colors in full display. There’s also something about Halloween displays outside the old east coast buildings at night that give them some extra punch. Plus I managed to avoid a repeat of the mishap of my last fall trip to MA!

Our flight home on Tuesday left around 5:30 pm, since for some reason JetBlue has either early morning or late afternoon flights from Boston to San Francisco. So it was a hecka late night for us, but we made it, and the cats were very happy to see us. We took Wednesday off and picked up the dog, who was also happy to see us. Maybe the first time he’s been left with our friends and had his owners come back for him, since he’d been surrendered three times. Now we’re trying to figure out if he’s enjoying the relative quiet of our home, or missing the constant wrestle opportunities at our friends’.

Our first COVID test today came back negative for both of us, so hopefully we’ve managed to dodge that particular bullet, and can look forward to going on a few more trips in the future.

March 2022 Staycation

It’s hard to come up with journal titles sometimes since we’re, well, not going anywhere or doing a whole lot.

I took last week off from work. Since we are, again, not going anywhere, I’ve been accumulating vacation time steadily without the usual trips to spend it on. Originally 2020 was going to be a big vacation year for us, but that didn’t happen. Instead I’ve been taking off about one week each quarter, plus the occasional day off here and there. That’s basically burning my vacation time just slightly faster than I earn it.

Since we’ve been, you know, in the middle of a global pandemic, I probably should be taking the occasional sick day as a mental health day, but I haven’t been. Once we start going back to the office – which may happen soon – I’ll see how that goes and how I feel. I expect being around people will be good for my mental health, but being around people potentially carrying COVID-19 will be bad for my mental health. (I’m sure they’ll feel the same about me.)

Anyway, I spent the first half of the week mostly hanging around at home and doing some chores. For example, ordering some new eyeglasses, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Going to get coffee and hang out at Philz, whose closest location to home has a nice outdoor patio. We also got a good rain shower on Monday, which we really needed, and where I was able to do some yard maintenance ahead of the rain, such as laying down some plant food for various things.

Wednesday Debbi also took the day off and we went to breakfast at Stacks in Campbell, and swung by Recycle Bookstore. Then we went to Santa Cruz, where we went to Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Penny Ice Creamery, before driving over to look at the ocean. It was warm downtown, but cold and windy by the water! So we didn’t stay long.

The Penny Ice Creamery

Thursday I decided to drive up to San Francisco. When I got there, I found my car had hit a milestone:

Odometer reading 40002
Yes, the inside of my car is rather dusty

I went by Borderlands Books, where I found a few things. They haven’t changed a lot – other than a staffer I hadn’t seen before – but I think they’re hoping to move into their new space later this year. Then I went by Amoeba Music, mainly because I’ve wanted to pick up a copy of the new Jethro Tull album The Zealot Gene on CD. They didn’t have it, although they did have the ridiculous $120 vinyl/CD deluxe set, but I passed on that.

Visiting Amoeba brought back memories. I went to it and Rasputin in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Campbell many times in the ten or so years after I moved to the Bay Area in 1999. That was when I really got into progressive rock, and it was sort of the golden age of the compact disc, where companies which had issued half-assed versions of vinyl albums on CD in the 80s were reissuing them nice editions with full liner notes and many bonus tracks and other goodies during that period. Those stores were excellent for finding many CDs, including of the increasingly-obscure bands I was getting into – bands which wouldn’t be available via download for quite a few years. (I knew the tide had turned around 2009 when there was an album I could not find on CD, but which was available from the iTunes Store. This was the eponymous album by Days Before Tomorrow.)

Haight Street in SF was still fairly quirky at that time (although I’m sure nothing like it had been 30 or even 10 years earlier). I particularly remember one used bookstore with tall bookcases and similarly tall stacks of books on top of those cases. I don’t generally worry about earthquakes, but I was worried about being caught in those stacks if one hit San Francisco. That store and many others are long gone, and the remnants of quirky Haight Street are not interesting to me – and honestly, even the tattoo parlors are looking pretty upscale.

Amoeba, however, seems to have not changed at all. They still want you to check your bags at the front. They still have extensive new and used CD sections, and a large side room with DVDs and blu-rays. If much has changed, it’s a larger selection of vinyl, as well as some record players. And actually they have substantially improved their organization of artists with large catalogs so you don’t have to go searching through three rows of unsorted discs to find the one you want. I hope they’re doing okay.

Amoeba Music interior

I had lunch at a nice nearby sandwich place called Bite Me Sandwiches, even if I did have to sit on the sidewalk to eat it. (Thanks COVID!) Then I drove over to Green Apple Books, which I haven’t been to in forever. Apple Maps claimed that all their locations were permanently closed, which I was pretty sure was wrong, but which made it hard to figure out which one to go to. When I got there I filed a report through the app with a photo of their open front door and hours, and it got fixed the next day. Fight entropy, everyone!

Green Apple Books is one of those old-style “we’ve crammed a bookcase into every square inch of space” bookstores, with wood floors and writing on the shelves indicating what used to be on those shelves back in the 80s. Still, they have a fine selection of used science fiction in excellent condition, and I picked up a few books here, too.

By this time it was time to head out to beat rush hour traffic, which I mostly did, and I came home and collapsed for the day.

The rest of the week and weekend involved more chores and more hanging around. I was pleased to win my first trophy in a Magic Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty draft. And Saturday night we got together with neighbors at the nearby Sport Page bar for drinks and dinner. They upgraded their patio during COVID and it seems to have paid off for them. The only downside was that we got there halfway through the Duke/UNC Final Four game, which none of us cared about, but once it ended everyone cleared out. We had a good time hanging out, including with a couple of former neighbors we hadn’t seen in a while.

So it was a pretty good week, though it went by fast, and wasn’t as good as, say, going to Hawaii. We know many people who have been travelling, so maybe our turn will come sometime this year, too. Otherwise, I’ll probably be writing another staycation entry in three months.

Birthday Week

Last Thursday was my birthday, and we had a heck of a busy week around it!

For starters, we went to to Disneyland last weekend, flying down Saturday and coming back Tuesday, spending 2-1/2 days in the park(s). Since SuperShuttle has gone under, we tried Wingz, which is like Uber and Lyft except that they vet their drivers more carefully (or so I’ve read), and they primarily do airport transportation, where you can request a ride weeks ahead of time. Our trip to and from the Anaheim airport both went really smoothly, with friendly drivers who were on time and flexible. It was probably a little more expensive than Lyft, but not a lot. Would definitely recommend. We learned the difference when we used Lyft to get home from the San Jose airport on Tuesday and got a driver with a messy car with way too much air freshener.

The big change at Disneyland since our last visit (two years ago!) is the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (or “Star Wars Land” as lots of people call it). It’s still kind of in its formative stages, but it was pretty populated while we were there. The main ride, “Smugger’s Run”, is okay, being kind of a guided video game you play with 6 people, with excellent graphics. But the scenery in the area is the main draw, with an elaborate settlement with a large reproduction of the Millennium Falcon, as well as a small Resistance base in some nearby ruins (with a ride which opened the weekend after we were there). And also the second place in Disneyland that sells alcohol, a cantina you should reserve a spot in ahead of time. They also have a build-a-droid experience, and a build-a-lightsaber experience, and Debbi bought me the latter as a birthday gift. The lightsaber seems like it’s really high quality, with nifty audio and visual details.

Oga's Cantina
The interior of Oga’s Cantina.

We rode a lot of the old favorites, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 3 times. The Indiana Jones ride is showing its age and broke down a lot, including twice when we had fastpasses to it. Space Mountain was slammed as usual, and Haunted Mansion has gotten very popular lately, typically with a wait time double that of Pirates of the Caribbean. We rode Star Tours twice, though its current Rise of Skywalker form is not as interesting as what it was after its overhaul a decade ago, when you could go to 3 different world on each ride. Hopefully once RoS leaves theaters they’ll put it back to mixing things up on each ride.

My favorite ride used to be the Californian Screamin’ coaster in California Adventure, but they’ve reskinned it using The Incredibles – a film I’m not much of a fan of – and we didn’t get to ride it because – you guessed it – it broke down when we had fastpasses. Oh well! Alas, the nifty “tour of California” theme of California Adventure has now been erased by the Disneyfication of the park over the last decade, so it’s lost a lot of its charm. The new Lamplight Lounge is pretty nice, although I don’t think it’s displaced the Hearthstone Lounge for me (the best kept secret on the property, I think). A Bug’s Land is being demolished for – I believe – a Marvel superhero area, presumably to integrate with the Guardians of the Galaxy ride behind it. We also road Soarin’ twice, which is also not as great as its previous Soarin’ Over California incarnation was.

Anyway, that and our tired feet aside, we had a good time and will try to go back sooner than another 2 years!

My actual birthday rolled around on Thursday and I treated myself to my free Starbucks drink in the morning to go with the scones Debbi baked for me. I had a pretty quiet day at work – lots of people were busy so I went to coffee by myself, and in the rain yet! (But, I love rain.) The original plan was for me to grill hamburgers for dinner, but instead we went downtown to Don Giovanni, which was yummy.

And Friday we went to Sundance the Steakhouse, which is what I always pick for my “official” birthday dinner. Their Moscow Mules are especially yummy for some reason, and birthday mud pie for dessert is also a nice bonus. Debbi noticed that some of the crew from Fox’s NFL broadcast show were eating there, including Jimmy Johnson and maybe Terry Bradshaw, but we didn’t want to stare so I’m not sure. They were in town of course because the 49ers were hosting the Green Bay Packers in The NFL championship on Sunday.

Saturday I went to Isle of Gamers for the Magic Theros: Beyond Death prerelease. I had a pretty good deck, I thought, although nothing obviously broken. My first match was a tie, but with 2 more turns I think I could have won it. I won my second match easily, and then tied my third match (and we barely started the third game). I think I played pretty well, bit a 1-0-2 record was just barely better than break-even. Well, it beats a sharp poke in the eye! I can confirm that the card Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is a house. It almost singlehandedly won 3 games for me.

The deck I ran was close to what’s shown here.

Sunday we finally took down our Christmas lights, a week later since we were away last weekend, and then we watched football for the afternoon. The Niners annihilated the Packers, as the Packers’ offense was sloppy and the defense had no answer for Raheem Mostert’s run game. It was kind of embarrassing, really. The Niners face the Chiefs in 2 weeks in the Super Bowl.

I had today off for Martin Luther King Day, and Debbi didn’t. I think in 2023 MLK Day will fall on my birthday and I’ll get it off work for that reason (something that sometimes happened when I was a kid, as MLK Day was a holiday for some of my childhood in Massachusetts). I took care of some long-standing chores and finished Charles Stross’ latest Laundry Files novel, which means I’m caught up on his books for the time being.

And that was about it. Not a bad, um, ten days of birthday celebration of various intensities. But I’m kinda ready for life to get back to normal for a few weeks, anyway. More rain in the forecast tomorrow, so that’ll make me happy.

A Temperate Trip

Yesterday we flew back from our latest trip back east to visit our families. I’ve been working so much over the last year that I haven’t taken much vacation since last year’s trip – just a few days here and there – so I was so ready for this one. We took 2 weeks for this trip, like we did for last year’s, but we didn’t have chores to take care of for the beach house this time so it was pretty much a pure vacation.

The JetBlue red-eye flight isn’t getting any easier, but there aren’t a lot of choices for flights from the Bay Area to Boston unless we’re willing to make a connection (we’d rather not). Our flight was also delayed an hour. So we landed around 6 am EDT time on a Wednesday morning, then picked up our rental car. This was supposed to be a mid-sized car, but was actually a Mazda 3 hatchback. This was a pretty crappy car, with a lousy console, a buggy entertainment system (no CarPlay! The console went dead on Debbi at one point while she was driving to her sister’s house!), it was missing the cover for the hatchback and we couldn’t fit all our luggage back there anyway. And the tire pressure light came on during our second week there. At least it had 4 doors, but not my idea of mid-sized. Our experience with it definitely makes me disinclined to buy a Mazda in the future. If we had been more awake when we picked it up we would have gone back to request another car when we saw it was a hatchback. I made a note for future trips to be sure to request a sedan.

Anyway, car bitch-fest aside, the trip went smoothly. Debbi spent a night with me at my Dad’s before heading out to meet a friend of hers for lunch, as said friend was also in town from out-of-state. I spent a couple of quiet days with Dad, going to the cemetery to visit Mom’s grave, where we also saw red-winged blackbirds and a small turtle – we definitely hit the jackpot with her site at Mount Auburn Cemetery. The second half of the Women’s World Cup tournament was on while we were there, and I watched one game with Dad, and others with Debbi and other family. Maybe I’ll get into soccer as my next spectator sport.

The first weekend there I borrowed Dad’s car and drive down to the beach house to meet Debbi and spend the night there. Debbi’s friend from out-of-state as well as another friend met us there for the afternoon, which was a nice, relaxing time. We ran some errands after they left and had a quiet evening. On Sunday Debbi’s family came by to hang out for the day.

Oh, and I bought Debbi a late birthday gift, the Lego Millennium Falcon, figuring we’d spend time putting it together on our vacation. I’d originally planned to get her the totally bonkers Ultimate Millennium Falcon until I saw that that one would take 40 hours or more to put together, and came with instructions on how to lift it without it falling apart. Plus the box weighs 30 pounds! I decided that was a little too ridiculous, so I got her the basic set (from the original trilogy – there are also sets from The Force Awakens and Solo). But the joke is that we never put it together and ended up shipping it home before we left. Oh well!

I drove back to Dad’s Sunday night, while Debbi went to stay with her sister. Debbi had another friend drive up with his daughter and her friend (both teenagers) on Monday to stay the night, and it sounds like they had fun. Meanwhile Dad and I went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which we’d last visited a decade or more ago. They’ve updated a lot of the exhibits since last we were there and it looks a lot spiffier, although it’s somehow comforting that the room with the dinosaur fossils and the coelacanth seem to only have received a fresh coat of paint. (Technically this is the Romer Hall of Vertebrate Paleontology.)

Plateosaurus
Plateosaurus
Coelacanth
Coelacanth
Triceratops
Triceratops

Several of our favorite restaurants near Dad’s have closed in recent years, so we tried a few new ones (to me, anyway, and one new one to Dad). Fortunately one favorite, Taberna de Haro, is still there (we went twice).

I decided not to go out to Waban on this trip, because with Mom’s house gone, my elementary school replaced, and not really anyone left out there whom I know, it didn’t seem necessary to go again this year. I belatedly realized that this means 2019 is likely the first year since 1971 when I didn’t spend any time in Waban. Truly the end of an era for me.

Tuesday Debbi picked me up and we started the second half of our trip, which consisted almost entirely of hanging out at the beach. We didn’t quite think our meal plans through as we kept going back to the grocery store to pick up stuff for lunch or dinner, but otherwise it went smoothly. I was reminded that unfortunately while there are several “okay” restaurants in the area, there are not many really good ones. I think my favorite that we’ve tried is The Galley, a small plate restaurant in downtown Scituate with some good drinks and a nice open-air atmosphere. (Check the mirror behind the bar for their wi-fi info.)

Debbi’s family came out for July 3rd, which is when many tens (hundreds?) of thousands of (illegal) fireworks are set off by homeowners up and down the beach. It’s quite a display, and a highlight of our trip. Then Friday night an old friend of mine from high school, Matt, came to visit. I’d contacted him around the time of my 50th birthday and learned he lives near the beach house! So I grilled burgers and we hung out and chatted for the evening. I think it’s been over a decade since we’d seen each other, so we had a lot to talk about. In many ways I feel like we haven’t changed a lot, at least not as far as how we relate to each other.

We had really good weather for this trip, much nicer than the sometimes-brutal weather of last year, but Saturday was the one rough day of heat and humidity on this trip. We mostly spent it sitting in front of the fans, though we ran a couple of errands in the afternoon. About 5 pm a storm rolled in and it instantly got cooler and drier. We got a good view of some lightning strikes out over the water before the rain crashed in for about an hour. We did take a walk in the drizzle in the evening to go get ice cream, though! I’m grateful that even though we did have some very warm days, it always cooled off at night so we could sleep, since we don’t have A/C at the house.

Storm coming
Storm coming (click for larger image)

The fam came over again on Sunday to watch the World Cup final and have a last day at the beach before we left (and several of them headed off on their own vacation). Debbi and I had a quiet evening and a last day at the house before we drove up to Dad’s for the last night with him.

We flew home Tuesday night and miraculously our flight arrived 40 minutes early, so we were able to decompress a bit before bed. We smartly took today off from work so we were able to reorient ourselves and get ready to go back to work. Plus it took most of the day to convince Roulette to come out from under the bed and warm back up to us. She will be 16 years old later this month and she is definitely looking a little thin, so it’s hard to see her traumatized by us going away like this. Poor girl. (Sadie and Jackson, of course, bounced back immediately.)

Holy cow did 2 weeks of vacation fly by! On the other hand, now I have so much in the bank at work that I can’t let another year go by before taking another one.

Sunrise

Beach Vacation

We’re back from a 2-week vacation to Massachusetts – which I think is the longest vacation I’ve taken since our Hawaii trip in 2011. We had originally planned this trip as part of Debbi’s sabbatical, but then she changed jobs so it became its own thing. Moreover, I haven’t taken much vacation time in the past year because of a big push at work, so I was due. (The last time I went a year taking so little vacation was 2005, but both times were for good causes. This coming year I’ll take more time off, if only otherwise I’d hit our vacation cap!)

Anyway, this trip was our annual visit to see our families – well partly, but I’ll get to that shortly. We took the red-eye flight from San Jose, landing in Boston the morning of Saturday June 24, picking up our rental car and driving to my Dad’s house. Red-eye flights are getting harder to weather so I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep doing them; at least I’ve learned to sleep on planes a bit, but Debbi hasn’t.

We had breakfast with Dad, took a late-morning nap, and then had lunch. Otherwise we just hung out for part of the day before driving down to Debbi’s family’s place where we had dinner and hung out some more. All three of the teenaged niephews [sic] hung out too, which shocked all (well some) of the adults. Sunday, we… well, again I’ll get to that in a moment. And then we drove back to my Dad’s and had dinner at the Regal Beagle. We got caught in a rainstorm on the way home and spent some quality time hanging out in the Arcade Building, checking out some of its corners that we’d never had reason to visit. (It’s not that interesting, but the century-old decor is unusual today.)

Inside the Brookline Arcade Building
The interior of the Brookline Arcade Building

Monday we drove up north to visit Nancy, a high school friend of Debbi’s, and her husband Dan (and their cat, who I followed around until I convinced her to let me pet her). I didn’t really know Nancy in high school, but I knew who she was – which frankly was about how well I knew Debbi in high school! Afterwards Debbi drove back to her family and I spent a few days with Dad.

Dad and I made some of the usual rounds, including visiting my Mom’s grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery, and going out to Waban where I grew up, having lunch at Barry’s Deli, which is very nearly the last thing left from my childhood town that hasn’t changed much. I’ve written before about Mom’s house being replaced with a much larger home, and now the large house on the corner – on a huge lot, and which I understand had been built around 1890 – has been torn down and replaced with two large houses. What will the neighborhood look like in another 40 years, I wonder?

I wanted to wander in to the Waban Library Center, but they weren’t yet open. However, walking up I remembered that one of the attorneys who had probated her estate had bought a memorial brick there, so I found it and took a picture. There are actually two bricks, and I don’t remember who bought the other one. (I might have a note of it somewhere, or it may remain a mystery.)

Memorial bricks at the Waban Library Center

The other place we went was That’s Entertainment, which is a huge comics, game and hobby store in Worcester. I remember why I only go every few years, because it takes over an hour to drive there! This trip was well worth it, though, because I managed to find all but 4 issues of two different runs of comics I’d been looking for. As with most series I’m currently collecting, they’re both not valuable and not in demand, so hardly anyone stocks them. I also managed to stump several employees with a question, which went down the line of four employees before someone knew the answer. (The answer, alas, was that they didn’t have any old issues of Dragon magazine in stock.)

We had originally planned to go to the Museum of Science on Thursday, but the weather dissuaded us. Instead Debbi drove up and had lunch with us, and she and I took the train into the city to have lunch at Faneuil Hall and look around. It was a little soggy, but not too bad. I bet parking and crowds at the museum would have been bad, though.


For the second half of our vacation: Well, a couple of years ago we bought a beach house on the south shore on Humarock. It was a keep-it-in-the-family purchase, and it’s mostly my in-laws who use it, but we arranged this trip so we could spend a chunk of time there, including the July 4 holiday.

The house had sustained some damage from the strong winter storms earlier this year. It sounds like these storms were the strongest in a generation, if not more, and we saw pictures of many houses hit much harder than ours. We ended up with some roof leaks, and some damaged furniture, but not much more than that. In particular it sounds like we avoided any serious mold issues. We hired a great contractor who put on a new roof, aired out the attic, repaired some damaged walls and ceilings, and discovered that the bedrooms have hardwood floors under their ancient 70s-era carpets. Even better, almost all of the work was done by the time we arrived.

So the first Sunday we went with the in-laws to check things out, and move some of the furniture back into place, as well as figure out what projects we wanted to do while there. We met with the contractor to go over some things, and also bought a new grill as the old one was getting pretty rusty. Then on Wednesday Debbi and Shawn (the brother-in-law) picked up some furniture at IKEA.

Friday we arrived to find a worker replacing one of the windows, so we left him to do his work and went out to get lunch and pick up stuff at Target.  Many of the furnishings were still jammed into the undamaged bedrooms, and we weren’t sure whether some things – like curtains – survived or had been kept, so we bought more than we needed to.  When we got back, we moved the bed back to the master bedroom and moved around some other things, and found that several items did in fact survive, so we were able to return some stuff later! Then in the evening I drove into Boston to meet my old friend Bruce, whom I haven’t seen in about three years.  We had dinner at Maggiano’s, and caught up with the latest developments.

Saturday the in-laws arrived with the IKEA furniture and Shawn, Debbi and I spent most of the afternoon putting it together in fairly hot and humid weather (alas, the house does not have A/C), with the World Cup games on in the background.  The in-laws are big soccer fans and were following them closely.  I’m not much of a soccer fan, but it’s an interesting break from baseball.  While people didn’t stay overnight with us, we did grill dinner together, and then they headed home and came back the next day for a much lazier day.

Monday Debbi and I drove into downtown Scituate for lunch and to walk around the harbor area.  We also drove over to Old Scituate Light, which is in a surprisingly built-up area, but is worth the visit nonetheless, for the view if nothing else.  Supposedly the battle which resulted in the line “Don’t give up the ship!” occurred near there as well.  We also made another run to Target, where I embarked on a small project to replace many light bulbs in the house with LED bulbs, since the heat from the incandescent bulbs was pretty nasty in hot weather.

Old Scituate Light
Old Scituate Light

In our driving around we also worked our way through the first (and so far only) season of a conspiracy-fiction podcast called Rabbits, which we both enjoyed quite a bit.  I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately and need to do an entry or three about them soon.

And indeed Tuesday was probably the worst day for heat and humidity that we had, and we spent most of the day lying around the house like slugs.  We did make a run to the grocery store, where the A/C tempted us to wander the aisles for longer than we would have otherwise.  Thankfully, it cooled off late in the afternoon when the fam arrived, and we were able to hang out on the beach after sunset and watch the fireworks.

But wait! you say, Tuesday was July 3!  Yep, Humarock has a long-standing tradition of fireworks on July 3 rather than July 4.  Up and down the beach – several miles of visibility in each direction – people were shooting off fireworks, probably thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars worth.  All perfectly illegal, I’m sure.  But it sure was a great display.  There were also a couple of people launching fire lanterns which would drive over the ocean and into the clouds.

Wednesday July 4 was another great day weather-wise, and we spent much of the day on the beach. Around the time the fam was heading home, Nancy and Dan showed up for a few hours, to hang out and grill dinner.  They headed out a little before sunset, and I spent an hour meeting one of my last goals, walking up to the end of the sandbar peninsula on which our house sits. I had to book it back before it got pitch black, but despite the rush it was a nice hike with some great views.

Fourth Cliff just after sunsetThe ocean side of Fourth Cliff just after sunset
(click for larger image)

We’d planned on Thursday to hang out around the house until late in the afternoon and then head back to Dad’s, but it turned out to be another humid stinker, so we actually called it a trip around noon, had lunch on the way out, and then drove around for a bit before heading back.  It was sad to go – other than the weather – but we had a good time, and a good mix of Getting Stuff Done and Enjoying Ourselves.  Unfortunately at Dad’s we went back to the Beagle for dinner, but their A/C was out so it was kind of a downer of a meal.  (Not as much of a downer as it was for the wait staff, I’m sure.)

Finally, Friday it was a rainy day and we mostly hung around at Dad’s until it was time to drive to the airport and catch our plane.  It didn’t rain enough to delay our flight, so we got home more-or-less on time, said hi to the cats, and collapsed into bed.  Then we had the weekend to recover and get ready for a new work-week.I think this was the longest vacation I’d taken

All-in-all a great trip, though as usual we were ready to come home to our own bed and our cats by the end of it.  But we’ll be back.  Because ocean.

2017 in Review

I’ve seen several people on social media say something along the lines of, “2017 was a pretty terrible year for the country/world, but a pretty good year for me personally.” That pretty well sums up how I feel. The Trump administration and Congressional Republicans have been a garbage fire, working tirelessly to destroy the country and stymied in large part by their breathtaking, historic incompetence. But I’ve had a pretty good year.

A few years ago I was going through a rough stretch at work for a variety of reasons (among them my Mom’s declining health and eventual passing), but I feel like this year things really came together. I’ve spent the last two years working on a fun project (Xcode’s new build system, unveiled at WWDC in June), written in a new language (Swift) which I have been thoroughly enjoying, and I’ve been broadening my skill set in a variety of ways. In addition, I’ve been moving into a larger leadership role, which has been surprisingly rewarding. The surprise is because what I’ve always found most enjoyable about my job is building things and seeing them work, but the coordination and organizational parts of my job have been more fulfilling than I’d expected. While I’m still happy when I can carve out a day to work through a problem and code it up, the rest of it has been pretty cool too.

(By the way, if you’re a programmer who’s like me in that you primarily enjoy building things and seeing them work, I highly recommend embracing an automated testing development workflow, because it gives you great feedback and a sense of accomplishment to write tests and see them work. Even working on test infrastructure is fun and rewarding!)

At home we had an unorthodox set of vacations. In February our niece R and nephew J (on Debbi’s side) came to visit for a week, their first plane trip without their parents. I think they enjoyed their stay more than they’d expected; we mixed up seeing the sights with time hanging around at home, and also getting together with some of our friends with kids (albeit younger kids, which didn’t seem to make a difference). R is a couple of years away from college so we drove through UC Santa Cruz, and we had a big day going to Alcatraz and Ghirardelli. In June we went back to visit our families, and spend a few days at the family beach house (which is great unless it’s ridiculously humid). And in September my dad came out to visit for the first time in over five years, which was also fun. It had been long enough that we went to see a few things a second time, for instance the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I sure hope I’m able to make cross-country plane trips when I’m in my 80s!

Somehow I’m now 2-1/2 years into running regularly. I peaked at running 3 miles about 5 times a week (2 out of every 3 days), and decided that I needed slightly more off days, so I switched to running 4 days a week and worked my way up to 4 miles earlier this month, which works out to slightly more distance overall. My legs seem to appreciate the extra day off each week, and it gives me a little more flexibility when we have things going on during the weekend. Frankly it’s the podcasts I listen to which keep me motivated (thanks especially to Limited Resources and Magic the Amateuring) – if I fall behind on my running then I fall way behind on my podcasts, so in a sense I use my OCD to keep me going (though I honestly enjoy the podcasts too).

Our household has been stable, but with a pleasant development: I wrote a few years ago about how Roulette was traumatized by her three brothers passing away, but over the last year and a half she seems to have gotten over her grief and started enjoying life again. She doesn’t put up with Jackson’s crap and stands up to him on a regular basis. She and Sadie sometimes chase each other around (which is hilarious because each is easily the smartest cat the other has ever played with). And she’s started sitting on our laps and even sleeping with us at night. Rou is now 14 years old and is acting younger and happier than she has in years – it’s been a joy to see.

So now we’re having a quiet New Year’s Eve watching television, having eaten Chinese take-out for dinner, our cats snoozing around us. We’ve had fun times with friends and family this past year, and we’re looking forward to 2018 with the hope that it will be better for everyone.

Happy new year to all!

Busy Vacation

We recently got back from a trip back east to visit our families – and quite a busy trip it was, too. We were there June 16-26, since we were trying to balance seeing Debbi’s family as well as my sister and nephew, all of whom had various plans in the works from mid-June through July. So this was in some ways an awkward time to go, but it was better than the alternatives, and I personally wanted to avoid the awful heat and humidity of our trip last year, if we could.

We arrived Friday morning and spent the day and night visiting with my father (and taking a nap in the middle, too, since the red-eye flight always wipes us out). Saturday we drove down to Debbi’s family’s house where we spent the day and took them out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant which had pretty good drinks and very good guacamole which they make table-side. This was, unfortunately, the only day I’d see my brother-in-law Shawn or their middle kid Rachel, since the two of them were driving out-of-town for a concert the following weekend.

I actually took my Dad’s car on Saturday, because I drove home to spend Father’s Day with him on Sunday. We didn’t do a whole lot on Sunday, just hung out, watched Doctor Who from the night before, and I took him out to dinner in the evening (at a place he wanted to try, which, unfortunately, both of us were kind of disappointed in).

A big part of this trip for us was to spend some time at – and doing some work on – the family beach house. Debbi and I each had a different “most important thing”: Debbi wanted to replace some of the mattresses, while I wanted to replace the curtains. Debbi went out on Sunday to pick out mattresses and set up delivery for Friday. I bought some tools, and on Monday we went to Target and bought a bunch of stuff for the house, including new rods and curtains. We spent a bunch of time on Monday and Tuesday replacing the curtains and doing some other chores: Drano’ing the shower, cleaning up the silverware drawer, and vacuuming under the beds. Since this is a beach house, sand gets everywhere constantly, and that lifting mattresses isn’t a high priority for our family when they stay there – but with new mattresses coming in it seemed worth doing.

We also checked out a new sandwich place in the area, and had dinner at the local restaurant. Plus, in order to make progress tying up a loose end on the property, I contacted the local Coastal Commission with some questions, and three of them came out to check things out and talk with us on Tuesday. They were very friendly, and I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of local owners don’t reach out to them to do this work very much.

Debbi drove me back to Dad’s on Wednesday, and my sister Katy and nephew Ivan came in that afternoon. Thursday we went over to Mount Auburn Cemetery to see Mom’s marker, which Katy commissioned and helped design, but she hadn’t seen it in person yet. Now, with the grass grown in around it, it looks really nice:

We also went in to Harvard Square to look around. I haven’t been in quite a few years, and honestly there’s not much there to attract me any more, as the place is a shadow of its former glory: Most of its bookstores closed (the loss of the venerable WordsWorth was the final straw), the comics shops not stocking many back issues anymore, browsing music stores isn’t really a thing anymore, etc. (I did find something at the Harvard Book Store, though.)

Friday, Katy and Ivan and I went down and spent the day at the beach house. The mattresses got delivered in the morning, so Debbi went over there with her nephew Josh to receive them. We mostly hung out for the day, and went down to the beach to kick around at the water’s edge (it’s not quite warm enough to go swimming) and throw a frisbee around. Katy and Ivan decided to head back to Dad’s for the night, while I stayed down with Debbi.

Saturday, Debbi’s family – her sisters, and her nephew and her other niece – came over to hang out with us. It had been warm and kind of muggy for much of the week, and it started clearing out on Saturday, at least a bit. We played bocce ball on the beach, Yahtzee in the house, and everyone tested out the new mattresses. Three of them left before dinner, and we took the fourth out to the local restaurant. (Said restaurant has good drinks and a lot of food I like, but 4 visits in one week was probably my limit.)

Sunday we had a lazy morning before Debbi drove me back to my Dad’s and went back to spend one more night with her family. On Monday Katy and Ivan headed home in the morning, and Debbi came up for lunch and then we drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and made the long flight home, finally getting back, unpacking, and falling into bed around 11 pm.

This was a more hectic trip than we’d hoped, and while we did get some downtime to just relax and enjoy, we also were very productive and got a lot done. It was satisfying, but not always very restful. Next year maybe we can take a longer trip and not have to schedule around so much going on. I think this year was just unusual in that way.

To Disney World – and Beyond!

We’re back from our big vacation for the year! Debbi and I flew to Florida to visit her parents, and then spend several days at Walt Disney World with Debbi’s friend Lisa and her husband Jeff.

We flew out two weeks ago, on Friday November 6, on United Airlines, which is the only airline with direct flights from the Bay Area to Orlando. It’s the first time in quite a few years I’ve flown one of the so-called major carriers (we fly JetBlue to visit our families in Boston, and smaller carriers around the west coast), so I was a bit worried about the experience, but it was actually fine: The flight was only slightly delayed, and the seats were not as cramped as I had feared they might be. Once we landed we rented a car and drove a couple of hours (with a stop for dinner) to Debbi’s parents’ house.

Her parents live in a nice community on the Gulf coast. Once we arrived, we stayed up a bit late that first night since we were still on west coast time (and we didn’t get in until close to 9 pm).

The one downer to the trip was that central Florida was setting temperature records for the first few days we were there; Saturday it got into the 90s and had very high humidity, which made for a pretty nasty day to be outside. Despite this we went out to an art fair and got lunch at a restaurant and did not completely melt. But we were pretty motivated to spend much of the rest of the visit with her parents inside in the air conditioning due to the weather.

Sunday Debbi’s uncle (her father’s brother) and his wife came to visit for a few hours, so I got to see a bit of the family resemblance (and hear a little of the family gossip). Debbi thinks she hasn’t seen her uncle since her sister got married almost 20 years ago, and everyone had a good time.

We got up a couple of mornings to go running (me) and walking (Deb), which was about as rough as you’d expect since it was mid-70s and muggy even at 8 am. But the humidity did start to go down so the second day was a bit more pleasant than the first, even if it was still hot.

Monday we went down late in the day to the Venice chalk festival, but we got there just as the one rain shower of the week kicked in, so we went back again on Tuesday. It was pretty neat, even though we were there for the early stages of the drawing! A big 3D painting from the previous year was done in latex paint and was still there, and the same crew were working on a larger painting to set a world record. And there were several smaller pieces in progress. I observed that the references the artists were working from were stretched onto a perspective grid so they would have a 3D look when placed on the ground – a technique I remember my dad showing me when I was a kid.

Otherwise we had a pretty relaxed time visiting her parents. I spent a bunch of time playing The Room Three on my iPad (which is great – each installment has been better than the last), and I read one book and part of another. I believe Debbi got through a few more books, too. So, it was a good visit.

Oh, one wrench in the trip was that our cat sitter e-mailed us that on Monday the dish washer had somehow gotten filled with water and leaked onto the kitchen floor. It didn’t seem to have gotten too bad, but it happened the day of a big rain storm, which made us worry that something was backing up from the outside or that something else had happened. The sitter shut off the water to the washer just in case and said she’d keep an eye on it for us.

Wednesday we drove back to Orlando and dropped off the rental car. Lisa picked us up and we spent the evening at her house before heading to Disney World on Thursday. We stayed in a suite at the Saratoga Springs resort and took the bus to and from the theme parks. This was a bit annoying as they don’t run enough buses (in my opinion), and sometimes they get bogged down in traffic. But, so it goes. The suite itself was nice, though.

We last visited Disney World in 2007 with Debbi’s family, so we did things a little differently this time: We didn’t go to Animal Kingdom, and we spent more time in Epcot. Thursday we first went into the Magic Kingdom, followed by Epcot Thursday night and Friday, Hollywood Studios on Saturday, and back to the Magic Kingdom on Sunday. We used the FastPass+ system to plan out rides for the various days, and used Magic Bands for admission. These are new systems since we last visited, and which are not yet available at Disneyland, but they’re pretty convenient.

A big difference between Disneyland and Disney World is that the parks at Disney World are much larger. This has the advantage that you do not feel as packed in with the other people as at Disneyland, but it also means you have to walk farther to get between places, and that though it might not feel as crowded, it might actually be more crowded, and thus the lines for attractions might actually be longer.

Among the most fun things on this visit was Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival. Epcot features exhibits from many countries around the world, and the festival set up booths where food and drink associated with each nation was available. And lots of it was really good! I especially remember some crispy pork belly, and an especially good glass of sangria. Of course, being Disney, I wondered how authentic the food selections were, and scratched my head at Argentina being referred to as Patagonia, and the lack of diversity of African stations (one was just called “Africa”!). But I didn’t worry about it that much.

The FastPass+ selections were handy for getting to some of the most popular rides, although it was strange not being able to just walk on to some of them if the lines were short as at Disneyland – because the lines were rarely short. It was also weird not knowing where many things were, or things being just a little different at the Magic Kingdom than at Disneyland (no New Orleans Square, no Indiana Jones). Some of the rides are slightly different too, such as some of the details being moved around on Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion.

Though we spent most of our time at the parks, we did come back on Friday to relax in the room for a bit, and came back early on Saturday and went down to the pool. Had we had more free time I might have gone running, since their running path was about the right length for the distance I’m currently running.

Anyway, we all had a good time. Debbi has been wanting to do this trip for several years, and we’d postponed it either due to my Mom’s health, or because I wanted to go to Cape Cod last year. I think she wishes we’d spent a couple more days at Disney World so we weren’t running around quite so much. Maybe next time!

On our flight home we bought first class seats, because for some reason they were a lot cheaper for this leg than for the flight out. And factoring in baggage fees and extra leg room seats – both included in first class – it was not a lot more than we would have been spending anyway. And it was pretty nice! Only two people per row per side, with a two-course meal for dinner (and better food than I’d expected), with wine and warm cookies added in. To top it off our luggage came out first on the other end. The only wrinkle was that we hit some nasty turbulence which caused Debbi’s wine glass to take a dive off her tray table and break, but at least it didn’t hurt anyone (plus it was empty).

We took today off from work to catch up on sleep and get some things done. And a good thing, too, since we both came down with colds, probably from the flight. Nothing too horrible, but definitely feeling under the weather.

Fortunately, no further incidents with the dish washer, even though there was another rain storm last weekend. Strange.

So that was our big fall trip! And now back to reality, and to brace ourselves for the holiday season.

Monterey Bay-cation

It’s been a busy year, as my few (dare I say rarified?) readers know, and ultimately Debbi and I decided to take a low-key vacation this month to unwind a bit. We decided to go to Monterey for a couple of days at the end of last week, and then take a couple more days off this week to relax and catch up on things.

Thursday morning we loaded into Debbi’s car Flo, and headed out. We had breakfast at Southern Kitchen in Los Gatos, which was very tasty, although the portions were about twice as big as we expected. Then we drove down Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a seaside town about half an hour south of Monterey which we’d never been to. Its downtown is cute, although mostly split between upscale boutiques and touristy souvenir shops. Carmel Beach City Park is quite nice, though (albeit extremely windy during the time we were there).

We drove up to Monterey along the 17-Mile Drive and through Pacific Grove. The former costs $10 admission, but I much prefer driving along the latter’s coastline, a rocky shore whose character and ocean waves for my money easily surpasses the views on the ritzy private drive.

In Monterey we stayed at the Spindrift Inn, which is right on Cannery Row. We looked at several hotels along the street and decided on this one in large part because we were able to get an ocean view room for not much more than we could get a street-side room in other hotels. Plus they had free wi-fi, continental breakfast delivered to the room in the morning, and a wine and cheese social in the late afternoon.

So we walked in and found that the view from our window looked like this:

View from the hotel room

Yes, we spent plenty of time over the next two days sitting in that windowseat. And the rest of the room was pretty nice, too! We definitely recommend the inn to anyone looking to spend a few days on Cannery Row.

Of course we spent the next morning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is the signature sight in Monterey. We saw an otter feeding, their current exhibit on cephalopods (I loved cephalopods when I was about 10 years old, and I still think they’re pretty cool), and lots of jellyfish (which Debbi loves). Even a staff member who was carrying a tube with a bunch of small jellies:

Handheld Jellyfish

Plenty of good food during the weekend, too: Hula’s Island Grill, the Whaling Station steak house, and on the drive home Aptos St. BBQ. And a visit to the Monterey branch of Bookbuyers. Alas, despite Cannery Row having a zillion candy stores, none of them carried chocolate cordials, thus saving me from myself. Well, almost, since we did make a couple of trips to Ghirardelli for ice cream sundaes.

Saturday we drove home and stopped off in Santa Cruz to do some shopping, and we made it home to have a relaxing evening with Chinese take-out for dinner. And appreciated having air conditioning at home, since while it was nice and temperate in Monterey, we were having a high-80s heat wave at home, which has persisted the rest of our vacation.

While there’s not a tremendous amount to do on Cannery Row, and we didn’t want to drive around any more than we did, we definitely had a very relaxing and fun couple of days down there, and might do it again someday!

Since then we’ve spent a couple of days puttering around the house – paying bills, having dinner with friends, etc. – before heading up this morning for a trip to California Academy of Sciences (yes, we’re still members!), with the usual follow-up trip to Borderlands Books. And here’s my obligatory panoramic photo from the roof of the Academy:

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

They had a couple of new exhibits at the Academy, too: One on the use of color in nature, and one on whales. Honestly I enjoy their rotating artifact exhibits such as the whale one more than the long-term, permanent installations. Variety and rotation is what makes it worth going back multiple times per year (and, in turn, having a membership).

I don’t think we’ve taken a vacation to just have time off for ourselves since Disneyland in February, so this was long overdue. We’re both in a bit of denial about going back to work tomorrow, but life marches on – with or without us.